Big Ten Football Preview: Michigan State
Michigan State had a roller-coaster ride of a season in 2012. The Spartans finished the year 7-6, but only won three Big Ten games (Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota). Sparty earns the collective benefit of doubt, though, as five of the six teams to defeat the Spartans finished the season in the AP Top 25. Looking ahead to 2013, Michigan State will dominate defensively as they usually do, but their offensive struggles could keep them from a possible Rose Bowl berth.
Quarterback Andrew Maxwell disappointed in 2012 and, though he may improve this season, it may not be enough to push the Spartans over the edge into the Rose Bowl conversation, should Ohio State be in consideration for the national championship. The Spartans are without Le’Veon Bell in the backfield and will sorely miss him with a relatively weak passing attack. Brian Fields has not shown the ability to perform at Bell’s level and that is what Michigan State’s offense needs to have a successful season.
The wide receiving corps will benefit greatly from mistakes made last year due to inexperience. Aaron Burbridge has shown signs of ability to become the Spartans number one receiver, provided quarterback play is sufficient enough to get him the ball on a consistent basis. The Spartans have no depth at tight end this season, so wide receivers like Burbridge and senior Bennie Fowler will have to step up and contribute more than in previous years.
The Michigan State defense is one of the best in the country. Headlined by two seniors, linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the Spartans defense looks to continue its dominating performances in years past. Bullough, a preseason All-American, will lead the Spartans defense to new heights in a year where few holes need to be filled. Dennard, named to the preseason Bednarik, Nagurski, and Thorpe watch lists, will serve as mentor to the young group of cornerbacks looking to replace Johnny Adams.
A year after finishing 4th in total defense, Michigan State will once again be a team whose postseason aspirations will require such a performance. Anything less than consistent excellence could cost the Spartans a victory with shaky-at-best quarterback performance. Expect Michigan State to finish in the top-10 in defense again.
Michigan State features one of the better special teams units in college football. Stellar kicker Dan Conroy has graduated, but Kevin Muma will serve as a good replacement. Junior punter Mike Sadler is on the Ray Guy Award watch list and may assume kickoff duties as well. Don’t expect the Spartans to make many kicking mistakes in 2013.
The meat of Michigan State’s schedule begins in November when they play Michigan, Nebraska, and Northwestern in consecutive weeks. The Spartans will likely lose two of those games (Michigan and Nebraska). Those two along with a nonconference lose at Notre Dame will place the Spartans third in the Legends division.
John Lewis is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.